BANGOR, Maine — Thursday was moving day for the veterans health clinic on Hancock Street. Trucks loaded with medical equipment, office furniture, computers and files ferried across town to the campus of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center, where a brand new, 29,000-square-foot medical center will open its doors on Monday to military veterans from across the northern half of Maine.
Directing traffic amid the maze of open boxes, computer cables and T-shirted workers was Lt. Col. Bridget Brozyna, director of the new clinic operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Brozyna, a nurse practitioner and a career Air Force officer, recently returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan and was featured in a Bangor Daily News profile about her experience.
“We’re psyched,” she said, grinning at the low-level chaos around her.
The new health center will open with the same basic services as the old one it replaces on Hancock Street — primary care, mental health, laboratory services and a limited pharmacy. But over the next two months, it will phase in much-needed specialty care, including speech and hearing services, optometry, radiology, physical therapy and dental care. A regular rotation of clinical specialists based at the Togus VA Medical Center near Augusta will bring expertise in cardiology, diabetes management, podiatry and other disciplines to the Bangor health center.
For about 10,000 veterans now living in the northern half of Maine, the presence of the new clinic with expanded services will be a significant improvement, Brozyna said, eliminating the need to travel to Togus for care. She also expects the new clinic will attract a number of Maine National Guard members, who are eligible for VA health benefits between deployments.
In particular, she said, the VA is reaching out to female veterans.
“We are really hoping more women will choose to use the VA and feel they have access to the same benefits and level of care they would have on the outside,” Brozyna said, noting that a women’s health specialist has recently been hired at Togus to offer clinical guidance to the VA clinics and health centers in Maine.
In addition to the new health center in Bangor, the VA provides health services at community clinics in Bingham, Calais, Caribou, Lincoln, Rumford and Saco as well as at the Togus VA Medical Center. Part-time VA clinics are located in Fort Kent and Houlton. A new health center similar to the Bangor facility is under construction in Lewiston and expected to open in about 12 months.
The VA is among the earliest adopters of electronic medical records, ensuring that each patient’s clinical information is available to doctors and other providers regardless of where in the country care is provided — a valuable benefit for ex-military “snowbirds” who summer in Maine and winter in Florida or other warm climates.
The new health center cost about $10 million to build. It was designed and engineered by SummitSmith Healthcare Facilities in Wisconsin, which will retain ownership of the facility. The land on which the health center is built is owned by the abutting nonprofit Maine Veterans’ Homes. The VA has a 20-year lease agreement for the facility at $900,000 a year.
Once it is fully staffed, the new health center will employ about 65 people, including physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and other clinical and administrative workers. The center also will provide administrative space for VA home-based services and state-based veterans services.
Brozyna said a volunteer will be posted at the old Hancock Street clinic on Monday to steer patients to the new health center.